The Ideas of Booker Washington



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The Ideas of Booker Washington and W.E.B Du Bois

Both W.E.B Du Bois and Booker T. Washington were great leaders within the black community in the late 19th century and late 20th century. Each of these philosophers had their own view of racial injustice and economic progress. Washington, a reformer and an influence of his time, self-help, preached social solidarity, and accommodation. Washington urged people of color to put up with racial discrimination temporarily and concentrate on improving themselves through material prosperity and hard work. On the other hand, Du Bois was a towering political thinker and scholar who opposed Washington’s strategy. In his viewpoint, Washington’s strategy would only serve to exacerbate white oppression. Du Bois advocated for civil rights agenda and political action. He opined that the only way social change would be attained is through forming “the Talented Tenth,” a small group comprising people of color with a college education. The purpose of this essay is to describe and evaluate the ideologies of Booker T. Washington and W.E.B Du Bois at length.

Various factors shaped the views of Washington and Du Bois on race relations. What influence Washington’s views on relations was his early life back in Virginia. Particularly his mother’s struggles as a black woman influenced his ideologies on racial justice. Washington was born to a black mother and a white father in a hut in 1856. His mother was employed as a cook by a plantation owner, and his father was anonymous to him. Alongside his mother and siblings, Booker had been enslaved by the Borrough couple during the civil war. They were freed when he was nine years old. His mother later remarried a free black man in West Virginia. Growing up, Booker had to work at a local salt workshop every day between 4 am, and 9 am, and it was only later that he was allowed to attend school. His second job was at a coal mine where he crossed paths will Samuel Chapman, a leader of the black troops in the civil war. All these experiences shaped his ideologies on how he viewed racial oppression. He has watched his mother struggle as a slave and at the hands of white people that he slowly began to accept that racial minorities did not have power and all they could do was tolerate discrimination. On the other hand, Du Bois’s ideas were largely influenced by the extensive fieldwork and groundbreaking sociological studies he conducted. His mother insisted on his education which saw him be the first among his extended family to attend college. His father left his mother shortly after his birth so he did not know much about him. He attended Harvard University and as a scholar, he found himself taking much of his time conducting research and doing door-to-door interviews. These experiences led him to believe that poverty, lack of education, and distrust were the Black communities’ greatest challenges.

Washington and Du Bois were responding to the social forces of discrimination, racial disaggregation, and capitalism. Life was particularly challenging for people of color during the Reconstruction era in the South. Discrimination was widespread during the period of Jim Crow Laws. Additionally, it was extremely dangerous for people of color to exercise their right to vote, get employment and attend schools. With the emergence of the Ku Klux Klan, there was no chance of people retaliating with violence and advocating for their rights. In his September 18th, 1895 speech, Washington told his audience in Atlanta that self-improvement was the only way out for African-American people. In his viewpoint, remaining segregated from white people was better than attempting desegregation as long as they gave black men and women access to education, economic progress, and justice in the United States courts.

The Merit of Washington’s argument was that if people of color would learn to accept discrimination as part of their life, eventually they would win the respect of their white counterparts who would then have no choice but to accept them as part of the society. This would lead to the integration of people of color in all strata of society. Washington reasoned that by concentrating on self-improvement, people of color would acquire useful industrial and crafting skills and farming skills to make them useful members of society. The merit of Du Bois’s reasoning was that to address the issue of racism in society, there was a need first to address capitalism as the underlying cause of injustice. He was no other way around discrimination rather than demanding to put an end to it. Du Bois reasoned that protesting and showing agitation was the only way for people of color to attain the respect of their white counterparts.

Notably, I see a lot of parallels in the ideologies of the two philosophers in the current society. Just like in the late 19th and early 20th century, the issue of racism continues to persist in today’s society. Although there have been strides in addressing the vice, we still have a long to go to attain equality as a society. During the times of Du Bois and Washington, people of color were had limited rights. They were not allowed to vote, go to school, and they had limited access to jobs. This has improved a great deal today but racism has shifted and adopted a subtle face. Today, racism is rampant in American society, but it is more geared towards the justice systems and institutions. There have been cases of police brutality, racial profiling where people of color get shot by white police officers. Examples are Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, who lost their lives under fatal circumstances at the hands of the people entrusted to guarantee their security.

I tend to agree more with Du Bois’ assertions than those of Washington. I believe that Du Bois had a better approach to addressing racial injustice because his strategy encouraged people to fight for their place in society. I think that following his years of extensive research and education allowed him to analyze societal problems better and develop a solution. Washington also had the people’s best interest at heart, but I fail to understand what good accepting discrimination would do. To earn people’s respect, one has to stand up and defend themselves, not display cowardice by sitting back and accepting everything that comes their way.

In closing, both Booker Washington and W.E. B Dubois were great philosophers who had great ideologies on racial solidarity, discrimination, and capitalism. While Washington maintained that people of color should accept racism, Du Bois opined that people had to rise and demand political action and acceptance of people of color. Dubois and Washington might have disagreed on ending class and racial injustice, but one thing is for sure; that they wanted to see social and economic progress for all people in society.


Bidwell, Rebecca Macon. “Washington and Du Bois: Using Historical Figures as Exemplars for Discussing Public Issues.” Iowa Journal for the Social Studies 29, no. 2 (2021): 58.

Dietrich, Lucas. “” At the Dawning of the Twentieth Century”: WEB Du Bois, AC McClurg & Co., and the Early Circulation of The Souls of Black Folk.” Book History 20, no. 1 (2017): 307-329.

Lungu, Nancy Bwalya, and Alice Dhliwayo. “African American Civil Rights Movements to End Slavery, Racism and Oppression in the Post Slavery Era: A Critique of Booker T. Washington’s Integration Ideology.” East African Journal of Education and Social Sciences (EAJESS) 2, no. 3: 62-68.